April 22, 2012: This post ends with a chess story. Deal with it.
While Newt Gingrich is still scrapping for votes amidst communication problems and tremendous debt, Ron Paul’s supporters are flooding the mass media’s E-mail inboxes with spam, and former candidate Rick Santorum’s last set of anti-Mitt Romney mailers are just now reaching voters, the primary campaign is effectively over, so the presumptive Republican nominee Romney and the incumbent Barack Obama have squarely focused their attention on winning this November’s general election. Obama has returned to court younger voters, a key demographic that helped him win the 2008 election, to paint Republicans as an obstacle to an affordable college education. Romney, on the other hand, is focusing more directly on the economy, telling Latino voters that the faltering economy and high unemployment rates throughout the later years of Obama’s presidency show that he has failed them. Obama’s winning the fundraising battle thus far, with over $104 million in available campaign funds, although one may have expected the early lead given that Romney has been forced to pour much of his own funds into the Republican primaries. Still, reports that Obama raised $53 million in March alone, a $8 million increase from his February total, are quite impressive. Since most national head-to-head polls have Obama holding a single-digit lead over Romney, it falls on the challenger to catch up to the incumbent.
In entertainment news, on Friday, Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross resigned from his position as the film studio’s top executive. Ross was highly successful when he led the Disney Channel, but stirred controversy at the film studio when he forced out many longtime executives and hired an outsider to run the marketing department. But the biggest blow against Ross was probably the big-budget, low-income John Carter, whose box office failings contributed to a $200 million write-down for the company. (Ross’ other major flop, Mars Needs Moms, cost $150 million to make and grossed only $39 million worldwide.) Apparently Ross spoke negatively about John Carter and blamed Pixar Animation Studios for its low quality, prompting Pixar executives to turn on Ross, whose abundant self-confidence amidst his less-than-brilliant tenure had already alienated many within the company. It may be little surprise, then, that Ross was fired, given that he had no one left to support him when he was on the chopping block.
The firing represents unfortunate timing for Ross, as The Avengers’ release in two weeks might have offered him a chance for redemption. It also calls the 2009 decision by CEO Robert Iger to place a TV executive in charge of the film division into question. The lack of a clear successor in the studio shows just how unstable things are at Disney right now, and it may take the company some time to regain its momentum after the Ross era.
I promised that we’d close with a chess story, and so we shall. Last week, the national high school chess championships concluded in Minneapolis, and I.S. 318 from Brooklyn, New York took home the crown as the top high school team in the nation. The only problem is that I.S. 318 isn’t a high school. That’s right: the top high school teams in the country lost to a group of junior high children, an unprecedented feat that has been compared to a college basketball team defeating the NBA champions.
The intermediate school team, composed mostly of eighth-graders, is the first ever to win the United States Chess Federation’s National High School Championship. They represent the popular group at their school, which makes sense given that all the stairwell landings are lined with four-foot chess trophies.
The I.S. 318 team was recently featured in a documentary, Brooklyn Castle, which explored how successful the team (see: 28 national championships) has been despite major financial challenges. 87% of the school’s students come from families below the poverty line, and despite the team’s extraordinary success, I.S. 318’s chess program has seen its funding repeatedly slashed due to budget cuts over the past several years. While I.S. 318 has tried to incorporate some unique programs for its students, and the school even keeps a full-time chess teacher on staff (who, it should be noted, is ranked lower than two of her middle school students), the chess program has barely dodged cancellation a few times. Last year the school had to come up with $60,000 to save the program, much of which the kids made themselves by selling chocolate bars. Yet the kids from I.S. 318 have persevered, shining amidst poor-performing and violence-marred schools that are being closed by the dozen, and regrouping after a painfully close second-place finish in 2011 to show what they can do when they’re just given a chance.
If nothing else, I.S. 318’s monumental win will make their participation in next week’s National Junior High Championship rather anticlimactic.
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